So Lauren was on this mission to find a sponsor so she could get her falconry license, so she went to this falconry meet and she let me and Daria tag along. The meet was in Madras, in Central Oregon, so we woke before the sun (argh) and drove over there. It was a very pretty drive, of course, with nice shiny close-ups of Mt. Hood, driving through the burning autumn leaves of the Cascades and out the other side into wide open vistas of sagebrush and grass, the plateau sliced by deep river gorges and the horizon ringed with Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and assorted volcanic buttes. There were many prime barn specimens.
We rolled into the fairgrounds at around 9, passing a large mob of horses, trailers, women in jeans, and men in cowboy hats... apparently our meet coincided with barrel-racing. On the other side of a fence and some trees we found a mob of raptors on perches, hunting dogs, and people dressed in a lot of denim, flannel, and camo. So I was happy already. Birds, dogs, and horses... what more could I want from life? It didn't hurt that it was a gorgeous day, sunny, warm, and clear.
We strolled up to admire a redtail hawk on the arm of woman who immediately started chatting us up. The hawk was Ayla (sp?... "she who hunts" in the language of a local tribe), the woman was Sabrina. We also met their hunting beagle Roscoe (who is adorable, and knows it), Sabrina's husband Chris, and Chris' gorgeous goshawk Harlot (she's the other woman in the family), who he's had for seven years and raised from a chick.
We paparazzi'd the hell out of the birds on the perches, mostly half-gyrfalcon hybrids, and chatted a bit with Joe, the OFA president, and various other falconers Lauren introduced herself as a pre-sponsor, pre-apprentice, and me and Daria alternately as her friends, cheerleaders, groupies, stalkers, bodyguards, whathaveyou. Lauren tried to corner Wayne, a falconer from the Portland area, but he was too busy trying to catch a merlin. All of a sudden all of the falconers disappeared in a cloud of dust and a rumble of truck engines. We fidgeted awkwardly for a bit, then managed to invite ourselves to a hunt with the last two falconers, who were a bit slower about skedaddling... Curtis, who had a daughter and a redtail named Phoenix, and... some guy, with his bird... something... was she a gyr-prairie? I can't remember.
So anyway we followed them out to this dusty field full of dead brush and hummocks of loose gravel, grabbed some sticks, and stomped about trying to flush cottontails. I found an old PVC pipe to use as my Beatin' Stick. We flushed a pheasant, which Phoenix just stared at, then flushed a couple of rabbits, which she missed. I heard some rustling in the brush and went to investigate, and we found a cottontail which had gone to ground in a large metal pipe. Everybody gathered round and Curtis lifted one end of the pipe and shook it, trying to force the rabbit to slip out one end. His daughter was trying to tell him that the rabbit was closer to the end that was in the air, and that we should shake the other end, when the bunny came rocketing out of the raised end of the pipe, narrowly avoiding landing on Lauren's face. Phoenix clawed her way over Curtis' shoulder and nabbed the thing. It was an easy catch, but it was SO COOL, especially since it was right in front of our faces. We clustered around Phoenix and watched her tear off the bunny's ear and eat its brains (>:DDD). I couldn't help feeling smug that it was my bunny she caught.
Next we helped the other guy and his bird try to catch ducks. She was good with bunnies, but he was trying to teach her that ducks were food too. We drove over to this pond next to a golf course and made like a special ops mission, sneaking quietly around one side of the pond and spreading out in a line with handfuls of rocks, communicating by walkie-talkie with the guy on the other side of the pond with his bird. When she was in the air, he gave the signal and we sprinted up the embankment, shouting and throwing rocks, and all the ducks freaked out and flew away. Bird didn't catch a duck, didn't even try very hard, but it was fun.
We headed back into town, and after a bit we peeled off to go check in to our motel and get some lunch. I waited outside, since the room was technically booked for two. This old lady came up to me and started showing me pictures of her grandchildren, which is eccentric but cute, and then she told me her whole life story about her kids who are bipolar and her husband who was a paranoid schizophrenic and how she hasn't seen one of her daughters and her kids in over ten years even though they don't live very far away, and I'm like "*nodnodsmile* That's nice, weird lady!" Daria and Lauren come out and help me escape, and then they tell me how the lady behind the desk was very concerned that the two of them not sleep in the same bed, and insisted on giving us a room with two beds for a discount ("Don't tell anyone!"). She obviously took one look at them and became convinced that the two of them sharing a bed would lead to wild lesbian sex, and she couldn't allow that, now could she? Of course, she didn't know about me so we thwarted her and had some sinful bed-sharing anyway. Needless to say, jokes about wild lesbian orgies were necessary for the rest of the weekend.
We nabbed some Mexican food and headed back. We shmoozed around a bit and paparazzi'd the birds some more. We went to laugh at the crates of ducks and pheasants for sale; the poor prey birds looked really freaked out. We made friends with this ADORABLE gyrfalcon named Ice... he was so cute, he kept turning his head upside down and looking at us and being photogenic, so we sat down next to him and hung out for a while. He was very chill, just sat on his perch and did cute things... unlike Crazy Attack Bird next door, who lunged at me and Daria as we went past and tried to eat our ankles.
We met a nice lady whose name I forget who had a very cute little Cooper's hawk named Ricochet. She was very chill despite having been in captivity for only two weeks, and she and the lady were nice enough to let us pet her. She was so soft! It was like petting a bunny... an evil death bunny covered in sharp pointies.
While hanging around, we heard some very sad news... Ayla had been killed by a golden eagle! These things happen, but it was very distressing.
We got ourselves invited to go out with some long-wingers (Ricochet's owner and her husband offered us a ride, even) and we drove out to some farmland again. The birds decided to be very fail. One lady released some starlings, which her bird completely failed to catch, and instead went and sat on telephone poles. Our driver hung some meat on a kite, put it up about 1200 feet, and sent his gyrfalcon Magic after it. Magic ignored the kite completely and beelined for a distant dike full of ducks and geese. He didn't catch anything... there were way too many birds, and way too much water, and his owner had to drive over there and fetch him. So the lady with the first failbird and her husband sent their gyr-prairie Layla up to the kite. She got all the way up there, missed the meat when the line was tugged, and decided to go after some pigeons instead. She went into this absolutely beautiful stoop and went to ground on a nearby farm. When she didn't come back up her owners raced over there to get her.
We waited around for a few minutes before receiving this surreal call on the walkie-talkies: "She's dead. They shot her." The poor woman sounded like she was crying. We reeled in the kite and hauled ass over there to see what was going on. A minute later they drove up with a sheriff in tow; they'd had to fetch him since they didn't know the name of the street. We hung around and slowly the story came out. They'd shown up at the farm, which turned out to be inhabited by a whole crowd of unrelated Mexicans and their kids. They saw this one guy with a rifle and they asked if he'd shot their bird. He said no, and one of the kids said "Yes you did!" and came out of the barn carrying her by the wing. While they were off getting the sheriff, the guy booked it out of there. Curtis' daughter and I both saw the car, but at the time we didn't know what was going on and in any case we were too far away to do anything. So the sheriff comes and the people at the farm are saying his name is Manuel but they don't know the guy, they don't know what he was doing on their property, he somehow managed to find their gun which was very well hidden of course, they have people they don't know parking in their driveway all the time, and doing the whole not understanding English when it suits them thing. Turns out they have a whole bunch of fighting cocks, and the sheriff knows they've got all sorts of cars going in and out of their property all the time, so their probably running a cock-fighting ring. While he was talking to them this other guy showed up and was like wtf cops... he'd lived in the house in the back for two months and claimed not to know anyone else there really well. Another sheriff showed up and they did the whole good-cop, bad-cop thing. They talked to this new guy a lot, and got one of the kids to come out with the rifle, which had disappeared into the barn when the shooter ran off.
So the whole thing was surreal and tragic and sketchy, and I really hope they catch that Manuel guy, because shooting a raptor is a federal offense, never mind that it was a freaking expensive bird and her owners could sue for up to $5000. Frankly, though, I'm pessimistic. He's probably in Idaho by now.
When there was nothing else to be done, we went back over to the pond by the golf cart and tried to help Magic catch ducks. The endeavor was unsuccessful, but I think we really weirded out the guy with the cart full of golf clubs who witnessed us sneaking around hunched over and holding handfuls of rocks, looking really sketchy, so... I call that a win.
We headed back to the fairgrounds and hung around awkwardly while the OFA set up for their soup-kitchen potluck dinner and meeting, which we'd sort of been invited to. Daria and I fulfilled our purpose as cheerleaders and shoved Lauren toward Wayne, who was sitting alone and staring into space. They shmoozed and chatted, and Lauren came back grinning. SUCCESS! She'd acquired a sponsor! So that's really exciting, she'll probably have a kestrel of her very own within a month.
We mooched some soup and chatted with a couple of badass women falconers. The lady who is the club treasurer, I think, and is very snarky and caustic in an awesome way, interrogated us a bit about what we were doing here. Lauren gave her the usual spiel, and she asked me and Daria if we weren't bothered by the blood and guts. Daria answered very enthusiastically with how much we'd enjoyed watching Phoenix eat bunny brains that morning, and the lady looked really surprised. She apologized, and the lady was like, "No, no, it doesn't bother me, obviously, I'm just surprised, most people find it kind of gross." So I'm like, "Well, I'm a biologist, and she's really morbid, so...." The lady told us it's unusual to see three young girls from Portland at a falconry meet, and practically flat-out admitted that she'd suspected we were spies from PETA. Which is hilarious.
When they got into club biz we sidled out and headed for the motel, where we showered, hung out for a bit, and then passed the fuck out.
The next morning we carbo-loaded at the free motel breakfast then headed off back to the fairgrounds. We hooked up with Sabrina and Chris and followed them out into the sagebrush and juniper trees to help Harlot catch a jackrabbit. We spread out in a line a combed the hills, Roscoe running willy-nilly looking for bunnies, and Harlot flying from tree to tree to keep up with the line. I chatted with Sabrina a bunch, and gave her my condolences for her bird. We scared up a bunny, which Harlot missed. Chris took off with Harlot and Roscoe and disappeared. I was at the far end of the line and didn't know what was going on, but Sabrina wasn't moving, so I didn't either. After a really long time Chris came back, slightly grumpy. Apparently Harlot chased a jackrabbit into a bush and they got all tangled up, and he'd had a hell of a time trying to get them out, especially with the jackrabbit kicking him. He'd been shouting for help, but none of us heard him, even though he was just down the hill from us. Weird acoustics or something. Anyway, he had a jackrabbit in the bag, so it was a success, though I was sad I'd missed the action. In any case it was nice to take a quiet walk in the juniper and sagebrush and warm dust, watching deer on the opposite hillside and watching Harlot fly gracefully from tree to tree. It was a beautiful feeling to be part of a team, bird and dog and humans, and to know that I was just a lesser cog in the machine, a subordinate to the powerful, deadly goshawk watching me from above.
Back at the fairgrounds the falconers were packing up, so we took off. The drive back was fairly uneventful, although we saw what we're fairly sure were wild horses. Altogether it was a very satisfying, if exhausting weekend. I think I'm only now recovering.
Nothing much going on other than that. I've been a disgusting slug for two days. Saw a baby coyote running down the street in our neighborhood when I took Daria to work, so that was cool. Oh, and my Dad's getting married. HOLY CRAP.